2015 Reading Log: Orthodoxy

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy.

There’s something enthralling about watching a master ply his trade. Whether it’s a virtuoso performing a piece of music or an artist creating or a builder crafting, we appreciate great work when we experience it. Chesterton’s way with words is no exception. Even if you don’t agree with a point he’s making, you’re still obliged to tip your hat to the way his erroneous point was made.

Orthodoxy is Chesterton’s testimony in a sense: his philosophical testimony. It’s a work of apologetics, but not in any traditional sense (which he himself admits). It’s the account of his journey to try to make sense of the world, only to find that robust Christianity already had the answers, and had them for centuries before him.

He opens with the metaphor of a man who discovers a foreign land, only to discover he had actually come home. His “discoveries” of answers to the questions of the world were more properly realizations that he already had the answers by way of his faith.

Chesterton was a devout Roman Catholic, and he is quite unashamed in his affiliation to Rome. If you’re a sensitive Calvinist, Chesterton’s jabs are probably more than you could bear. He blamed William Cowper’s debilitating depression on his Calvinism, and Cowper’s surpassing poetry as the cure. (Personally, I’d argue that Cowper’s Calvinism was the fount of his surpassing poetry.) He backhandedly equates Calvinism with Arianism and other heresies, through which the orthodox Church has endured unstained through the centuries.

If you can safely dodge the shots fired from across the Tiber, Chesterton’s wit serves him well in demonstrating how small and empty the world is if Christianity is not true.

If the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos (40).

Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshipped (116).

But all the optimism of the age had been false and disheartening for this reason, that it had always been trying to prove that we fit in to the world. The Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit in to the world (121).

One of my favorite passages was in chapter 6, where he showed how the objections against Christianity were usually contradictory and self-defeating:

It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with (134).

Orthodoxy is an interesting read. It’s not quite as linear as a classical argument for God’s existence or a logical proof thereof. It’s far more conversational, which is what Chesterton intended. Read it to appreciate his wit and linguistic prowess; read it to be encouraged that apart from the living water that only Jesus gives, everything else in this world is a broken cistern that holds no water.


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